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Monday, August 18, 2014

NEW YORK BASEBALL TRIP - Part 2


In part 1 , we had great, cheap hot dogs; went to a Yankees game; and paid our repects at the World Trade Center site.

The next day it’s bagels for breakfast again as we do some sightseeing and shopping around Manhattan in the morning.



For that, we head downtown to the South Street Seaport, a nautically themed shopping area facing the East River.  It's kind of quiet and not a lot going on.  We browse some of the stores, but frankly, there is nothing here that you can't get at any of a hundred other tourist spots.



Taking our leave, we head up to the city hall with it's beautiful fountain and gas lamps before heading back to the hotel.

In the afternoon, it’s time to get ready to go to our next game. We’ll be seeing the Amazin’ Mets take on the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium.


Unlike Yankee Stadium, the subway stop at Shea is not accessible. It could easily be made accessible…the exit from the elevated station includes a spiral ramp down to the parking lot but it stops about 10 feet from the ground with a set of stairs leading the rest of the way down. Why not just continue with the ramp?

This means that we take the train one stop past Shea to Flushing-Main Street where the station is accessible. Outside are dozens of bus stops, our job is to find the one that goes back to the stadium. I see an MTA worker in an orange vest and ask him. He’s friendly and points us to the correct stop where we catch a 48 bus back to Shea.



When we called for tickets at the number listed on the Mets website, a friendly gentleman helped us out and quickly sold us three seats very close to home plate. They were very good seats.



Inside the stadium, however, friendliness from the employees was in short supply. From the snack bar to the gift shop short, rude service was the order of the day. It was not anywhere near the great service we got at Yankee Stadium.
The Scoreboard Sums Up the Weather

The game itself was good. The Mets came from behind to beat San Diego. There was a light drizzle and it was chilly during the entire game but it was never stopped. A highlight was seeing George Thorogood sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the stretch standing on the dugout just a few feet away from us.

After the game, we made our way back to Main Street on the bus, got on the subway, and made our way back to the hotel.

In the morning, it was time to checkout and the doorman helped us flag down a van taxi. He couldn’t quite work a miracle to find a fully accessible one, but this would do. The van took us over to Penn Station where we boarded a southbound Amtrak heading to Philadelphia.

Next week, it's on to Pennsylvania for more baseball and Amish country.  Stay tuned...

-Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Cocktail Hour: Strange Brew - Part 2


In part 1, we brewed our Belgian Dubbel Ale.  It's been two weeks, fermentation is complete, and it's time to bottle.


Watch the Video!



We must transfer the completed beer into another tank, mainly to filter out the bits of dead yeast and other bits, and then it's just a matter of pouring into bottles, pressing caps on them, and waiting.

It'll take another couple of weeks of bottle aging and conditioning until it's ready to drink. At that time, Tim and I will taste test them for you. 


Cheers!

Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 15, 2014

NEW YORK BASEBALL TRIP - Part 1


UpTake Travel Gem


We love New York. If you saw our first trip report to the city, you can see we were a bit intimidated but that soon passed. I would never pass up a trip to this great city.


In our ongoing quest to see every Major League Stadium, this time we’re headed to the Big Apple. Our flight is scheduled to leave John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 6:30 in the morning. We’re on Frontier Airlines today and have comfortable bulkhead seats at the front of the plane.



We taxi and wait. Although Frontier schedules a 6:30 departure, airport rules don’t let any planes actually leave until 7:00am. The flight attendant tells me they do this so they can push back and be first in line.

It’s a comfortable, direct one-stop flight (in Denver) to La Guardia Airport in New York City. Out front, we get to the taxi stand and immediately the dispatcher tries to get us into a regular sedan that is in the front of the line. We explain that the wheelchair won’t fit and we at least need a minivan. He won’t budge…until I ask him to tell me how to get there by bus since there isn’t a taxi that will work. That does the trick. He loads us in a minivan that was about sixth in line and off we go.

Our hotel for this trip…our third to the city…is the Beekman Tower, adjacent to the United Nations on 1st Avenue. It’s a roomy two-room suite with a dine-in kitchen and marvelous views. We were able to book it just between to high periods and got four nights for just a touch over $200 a night, including taxes. A quick online check shows that normal rates run from $276 - $350, still not a bad deal for a good Manhattan neighborhood. The tub was doable and the toilet tiny, but we managed.


The next day, we took the subway up to the Bronx to see the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers in the old Yankee Stadium. You could see the new stadium going up over the left field side. The corridors are were very narrow but our seats above first base were very good but the view was just a bit obstructed by the second deck.


The Yankees required us to write in for tickets but we were rewarded with a great location for the three of us for only $86. The staff was very helpful and the concession workers very friendly. Say what you will of the Steinbrenners, they make sure their fans are treated well. I’d go into the complete specifics of the stadium’s accessibility, but since it is demolished now, it just seems a waste of typing.

We met a couple from Tennessee sitting next to us that were at the game to complete a dream of their son, Wes, who had been killed in an auto accident. It’s a sad story, but they’re wonderful people who are honoring their son as they get on with life.
The Yankees went on to win the game and Tim says this is the best baseball experience he’s had other than being at the playoffs in 2002 when the Angels took it all.
The Rooftop Bar and one of the Views From the Bar
Back at the hotel after the game, we went up to their magnificent rooftop bar and had a couple of martinis. There is a mostly accessible deck where you can get a view from all directions around the hotel. Drinks aren’t cheap…around $10 for a happy hour martini…but just this once.

The next morning we have breakfast at one of the most wonderful bagel bakeries we’ve been to, Tal Bagels, just a couple of blocks north of the hotel on 1st Avenue. Hectic and delicious, you need to know what you want before you hit the counter…they will have no patience with you if you don’t. When you do decide, get in line, order quick, pay at the end, get your food, and find a table. You’ll have one of the most mouth-watering experiences you’ll every have.
It’s off to the subway, heading downtown. It’s time to see just what those idiots did to us on September 11th…the ruins of the World Trade Center. A cobbled-together walkway in the buildings surrounding the site give you a view of the giant hole that used to be the world’s tallest buildings. It’s accessible but in fits and starts as you sometimes have to take an elevator to another level or go out to the street for a few feet…but we make the circle slowly. It’s a sad and somber reminder, looking into that grave, of man’s inhumanity.
I wish they would be faster about erecting the replacement building…as long as that hole is there, al qaeda gloats.

Back on the subway, we head up to the upper west side for one of New York’s great cheap eats, Gray’s Papaya, located just outside the accessible subway station at 72nd and Broadway. For a couple of bucks, you get two delicious hot dogs and a glass of fruit juice. We go with the management’s recommendation and choose papaya. For some reason this goes real well with a hot dog.

On a previous trip here I limited the amount of food we had here so we wouldn’t be full when we had dinner at Tavern on the Green. My wife later told me she wished I had just cancelled those reservations and let her and Tim eat to their heart’s content. Today, she got her wish…which was an extra two hot dogs, I guess.

They are great dogs. Savory, tasty and packed in a natural casing that provides a great snap. Fine dining Gray’s is not. There are no tables or chairs…you just stand at a narrow shelf that wraps around the room and eat. Still, one of New York’s best food deals.
One of the Views from our Room
We finish the day with a walk through Central Park before heading back to midtown and our hotel.

There's more, stay tuned for Part 2...

-Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Monday, August 11, 2014

PENNSYLVANIA - Part 2


It’s a pleasant 60 or so mile drive from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We have just spent the last week in two of the largest cities on the east coast, loving our time in both of them…as long as you discount the bad time we had with our original Philly area hotel. As fun as that was, what we’d like…at least my wife and I…is a little slower pace to decompress before we return home.

Our hotel will actually be about 20 miles beyond Lancaster in the town of Mountville, about half-way between Lancaster and Columbia. We are staying at the MainStay Suites and get a wonderful, two-room suite with a roll-in shower overlooking the swimming pool. Next door is a miniature golf course and snack bar.



After unpacking, we hop in the car to do a little exploring and get some lunch. I had read about the bridge connecting Columbia to Wrightsville on the other side of the Susquehanna River. It’s the longest, multiple arch concrete bridge in the world, stretching in excess of 7,000 feet. Alongside it are the remains of a previous bridge that was destroyed by the Confederates 
during the Civil War.




  We made our way over there under darkening skies and stopped at a park next to the bridge to take in the view. It started to rain a bit so got back in the car and decided to drive to the other side on this old (1930) two-lane span. Then came the deluge.

A thunder storm of biblical proportions hit. Lightning was flashing all around us. By the time we got to the middle of the bridge, visibility was less than 100 feet. We had nowhere to go so we kept going until we got to the other side.

Tim’s going bananas at this point and my wife just wants to turn around and go back to the hotel. The rain eased up just a bit, so we make the U-turn in Wrightsville and go back.

That letup was just temporary as the downpour returned. We made it back to the other side and started back towards Mountville. Lightning still crashing around us. A bolt struck a utility pole as we passed, showering us with sparks. I pull into a shopping center and park under a covered drive-through lane in a closed bank for a few minutes.

The storm is not letting up. Eventually, we decide to push on, slowed by the lack of visibility when I see such a sight. With the rain coming down in buckets, lightning crashing, and thunder roaring, I see a twenty-something lady walking along the side of the road in a halter top, cut off shorts, barefoot, and smoking a cigarette without a care in the world.

They must think us Californians are such wimps there.



After a couple of hours at the hotel, the storm has passed and we decide to get some dinner. My wife had seen what looked like a fast-food seafood place on the way back and she was craving some crab cakes. We went there but they wanted an arm and a leg. With a kitchen and dining area, we decide to go to the local supermarket…Weis…and get some food to make in our room.

Pretty quickly, my wife finds some crab cakes in the seafood department. They were delicious and only $5.

The skies have cleared and the next morning we drive east of Lancaster into Amish country. Lincoln Highway, also known as highway 30, turns from expressway to four-lane road. According to the map, we’re there but instead of seeing bucolic farms and wooden bridges, it’s shopping centers, fast food restaurants , and tourist stops. Well, I take part of that back. An old wooden bridge sits in the parking lot of Dutch Wonderland, a local amusement park and miniature golf course.

A little farther down the road, we see Dutch Haven. It’s another very touristy place with antiques, blankets, crafts, jams & jellies, and more. We pull in because the sign says “free shoofly pie.” Why not?

We make our way in, which is a little tricky because they have a seldom-used wheelchair ramp at the entrance, and find the pie counter. We are indeed each given a generous slice of pie. It is redolent of molasses and delicious with whipped cream on top. That’s it…no sales pitch or making us feel guilty about not buying a pie. Just “thank you for coming in, we hope you enjoy your trip here.”

As good as the pie was and as friendly as the people were, something is not right. It’s like being in Anaheim by Disneyland or Kissimmee near Disneyworld. Just a long stretch of tourist inspired businesses. Where are the farms? The wooden bridges? The countryside?

Before leaving, I pulled out a list of the bridges of the county (sounds like it should be a book) and a map. I made up a route of the half-dozen or so bridges nearest to us and started on our way. That was the trick!

As soon as we left highway 30, civilization melted away. Little two lane roads lead through green pastures, farms with fields of tall corn, and people driving little black horse-drawn buggies. Farmers were harvesting the crops with horse-drawn harvesters. It’s a beautiful sight.



Our first stop is Bitzer’s Mill Bridge, a long, wooden bridge spanning the Conestoga River. Still in use, it was built in 1846. You can drive across it. We did.

We found a pull out on the road and got out to take pictures and a closer look. There are two pretty houses with nice flower gardens next to the bridge. We saw no evidence of their occupants, however.

Continuing on, we saw a few more small bridges and many farms. It was time for the next planned adventure.
About a mile south of highway 30 and just east of the tiny town of Strasburg is the depot for the Strasburg Railroad. A steam-powered locomotive sits chugging on the tracks. Many families with small kids mingle in the station area with railroad enthusiasts and other tourists like us. We find the fare is $14 for adults ($7 for kids under 12). For just a few dollars more, we could ride in the dining car and eat lunch (NOTE: This option apparently is no longer offered. Now it is $2 extra to ride in the dining car, plus the cost of food which runs from $4 for soup to $14 for a prime rib sandwich). We chose that option.



It was just us and another couple in the really nicely restored dining car. A wheelchair lift was provided to get Tim’s chair on board, and then it was a bit of a tight turn to get into the car proper. All the noisy kids were in other cars so we had a nice, quiet ride.

We were offered an assortment of sandwiches, lemonade, tea, coffee, or soda, and dessert. We chose turkey and roast beef sandwiches which came with chips. For dessert, we had shoo-fly pie and carrot cake. All were very good and served by an attentive waitress.


On the ride, a tour guide noted points of interest and an explanation of Amish culture over the PA system. The ride goes through some spectacular country with rolling green hills of crops and the occasional Amish farm compound.



Several times, we could see men in the field harvesting with horse-drawn equipment. About half-way to our destination, there is a stop at Paradise. A small farm area where you can disembark to spend some time watching Amish demonstrations and having snacks is here. It is not an accessible location so we stay on the train.

After about an hour, we reach the destination…a siding next to a highway in Bird-In-Hand. The locomotive is disconnected and moved to the other end of the train. A conductor puts several pennies on the track to be flattened as the large engine passes. On the way back, he’ll hand these out to kids on the train.



Back at the depot – rested, fed, and educated – we take some time to see some of the other attractions here. Letty poses in an Amish carriage. A miniature version of the railroad carries kids around a small course. You can try your skill and operating a hand-powered cart (gandy dancer)…there’s even a mini version for small kids. And, of course, there are snacks and a gift shop.



We spend the afternoon just driving around the countryside, taking in the scenery and stopping now and again when something catches our eye. We stop in Intercourse to shop at the Kitchen Kettle Village, a kind of touristy shopping center, and buy some T-Shirts with double-entendre slogans (“Caught in the Middle of Intercourse”, etc…you get the idea). There are many antique shops here and Letty has a ball looking at the blankets and farm implements.


For dinner, we make our way back to Bird-In-Hand to eat at Good ‘n Plenty, a family style restaurant serving Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food. The dining room is huge, I’m guessing it can accommodate up to around 1,000, and there are long tables. We take our seats…and are told to scooch in close to the next party and not leave any empty seat. I’m guessing the dining room is about a tenth full so I don’t know why we have to crowd, but okay.

If you’ve ever eaten at a Basque restaurant, you can get an idea of what it’s like. It might also be likened to being at your Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving as servers bring out bowls of soup and salad, ham, roast beef, turkey, fried chicken, potatoes, green beans, bread & butter. Eat your fill…have seconds if you want but save room for the ever-present shoo-fly pie. It is very filling and delicious.

Waddling out bursting at the seams, we take some time to play with the animals in the little zoo out back before heading back to the hotel.

The next day we decide to drive the other direction towards Harrisburg. The capital is a medium-sized city on the banks of the Susquehanna. On arrival, we stop and take a little time to walk along the river in the pretty park that is there.



Driving south, soon we come along a modern day historical landmark…the twin cooling towers of the nuclear power plant sitting on an island in the river three miles south of Harrisburg. One is belching steam…the other quiet and not in use. The reactor, Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island power plant, suffered a cooling system malfunction on March 28, 1979…just a couple of months after I graduated from high school. This caused a partial melt-down of the core and released a significant amount of radiation in the surrounding environment resulting in one of the worst nuclear accidents in the country’s history.



An ongoing cleanup is still in process. It was recently announced that the undamaged generator will be moved to a power plant in North Carolina.

Not long after, we arrive back in Columbia and get to see the bridge, and the civil war era ruins, crossing the river in the sunlight. One last look as the sun sets. Tomorrow, it’s back to Philly to drop off the car and catch a train back to the airport. Then it’s back home.



Final Tally from this trip


New stadiums visited -3. Bringing our total to 16 for Tim, 17 for Letty and me (the two of us saw a game at Oakland without Tim). Since this trip, we also added Seattle so now it’s 16 and 18 respectively…that number includes two for San Diego (Qualcom Stadium and Petco Park)

New states – just New Jersey, bringing our total state count to 32 for Letty and Tim and 36 for me.

-Darryl
Copyright 2010-Darryl Musick

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Cocktail Hour - Strange Brew, Part 1


Once in awhile, I like to really get into creating something to drink. I don't mean just trying to invent a new cocktail, although that is a lot of fun. I mean creating something from scratch, like a moonshiner.

Watch the Video!

  

No White Lightning for me, though.  This is a little more tame.  

Today, I'm making beer. This is the third batch I've ever made and I want to expand my horizon a little.  I've made a basic Pilsner and a Honey Ale in the past. Today, I'm going with a Belgian Dubbel Ale.



With a kit from Williams Brewing, a couple of five gallon tubs, and a few accessories, I'm ready to go.



First, boil the grain syrup from the kit and a pack of brewing sugar in 3 gallons of water for an hour. Add hops five minutes before the hour is up.



Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature, pour it into the fermenting tank. Add yeast, and let it ferment for a couple of weeks when we'll come back for bottling.


That's all a very simplistic explanation of the process that's covered in a bit more detail in the video above, which takes a 2 -hour process and compresses it to 5 minutes...take a look to see how we got the ball rolling on this batch.

If you're inspired to make your own, click the link below to get your own beer making kit.




See you in a couple of weeks for the conclusion to this report.  Cheers!

Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 8, 2014

PENNSYVANIA - Part 1

 
UpTake Travel Gem

Penn Station, in New York, is appropriately named. We’re leaving here for Pennsylvania today. The station itself is a rabbit warren of a maze, especially if you’re in a wheelchair looking for that elusive ramp or lift to the next level. While Grand Central Station is massive, with soaring ceilings, stone walls, and magnificent artwork, Penn Station is cramped with low ceilings, dry wall, and has all the charm of the post office.

It’s hard to navigate our way through. Penn Station has notoriously bad signage, and it takes us a couple of laps to figure out where we’re going. We finally find the Amtrak ticket counter and lounge and also receive the bad news that there will be no checked baggage on this train. Our big suitcase (we all share one big suitcase along with each of our small carryons…you just can’t avoid checked baggage with a wheelchair) will have to ride with us.


Once the hectic pace is done and we board our train, with the help of Amtrak’s staff and a wheelchair lift, it’s a quick, 75 minute ride through the “scenic” wonders of New Jersey to the station in Philadelphia.

We pick up our rental car, a Suzuki Grand Vitara…which my wife keeps calling the Grand Viagra. It’s doable with a manual chair and is not too hard to transfer Tim into the front passenger seat. It is pretty stained due to sitting under a wet, rusty roof in the parking lot. As long as it runs well, which it does.

We head west out of Philly to our destination of West Chester. Our intention is to stay in this quieter suburb and take the train into Philadelphia for sightseeing and activities. Arriving at the West Chester Microtel, we notice a lot of construction going on. We booked Microtel because you can guarantee a roll-in shower on their web site. I had called the week before to confirm that. However…

We are told that the lady staying in the room we had booked does not want to leave and that there is nothing the hotel can do. Funny, because I remember being told “no” in no uncertain terms once when I wanted to extend my stay because someone else had booked that particular room.

What to do now...I was offered another room at the hotel but there was no other accessible room that we could use. I was adamant that it had to be accessible, Tim needed somewhere to bathe. The manager offered to put us up at another nearby hotel. I agreed as long as it was an accessible room.

The “best he could do” was the Microtel at the Philadelphia airport. I told him that I specifically avoided that location because I did not want to be near the airport…which was also not close to where we were. I was told it’s only a 30 minute drive and basically “take it or leave it.”

A 2-hour drive later puts us as the Microtel, Philadelphia airport. Indeed, it was an accessible room with roll-in shower and a good staff. The whole experience, especially when I complained to the corporate office and the manager of the West Chester location e-mailed me back, angry that I had complained when they had “done so much” to accommodate us, put me off of the Microtel brand…which usually comes highly recommended by travelers with special needs.

Bad hotel experience behind us, we decide to enjoy what we can. It’s a Thursday morning, so we decide to take a drive around the city to see what we can find before we go to our ball game.
We’re driving around, just south of downtown, when we make a random turn and find blocks full of old looking stalls looking like something from Little Italy around the turn of the 20th century. It’s looks very interesting, so we park and start walking around. It turns out that we stumbled onto the Italian Market (forgive me, but I’d never heard of it before), a marvelous place with many old-time grocers, meat markets, cheese shops, fish mongers, bookstores, and restaurants spilling out into their stalls in the street. We find a place that sells pizza for breakfast (!), have a couple of slices along with donuts and coffee.
It’s a lot of fun just exploring. We go into a nearby butcher shop, D’ Angelo Brothers, and get some dried meat for later. I ask the lady working behind the counter what the deal is with this neighborhood and she explains to me that it has changed relatively little over the last 100 years or so. Families still run their businesses, as theirs does, being passed down through the generations. She shows me a butcher block, worn down into curves, that has been in continuous use for over a century.

What a fascinating place. We continue on looking in all the shops.
Come game time, we head even farther south to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. It’s a day game versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. Being an Angel fan, Tim despises the Dodgers so he finds it easy to root for the home team. I’m pretty much indifferent about L.A.’s team. I liked them when they were owned by the O’ Malleys; lost some enthusiasm when Fox ran the team; and can’t stand the ownership team of the McCourts so I heartily cheered the Phillies on too.  Our seats were in the second deck, in right field, on a straight line with second and third base.
Being at the top row of that level, we were shaded on what turned out to be a hot and humid day. Surrounded by 5 food stands, a souvenir shop, and nearby restrooms, we were set.

We had a great view and hung out with some great Philly fans that were gracious and friendly with the out-of-towners. The staff was friendly too. We had some great ushers who kept our area clear and told us where the best food in the stadium was.
The "Pool Suite" at Citizen's Bank Park
Unfortunately, our cheering didn’t work because the Phillies went down to the Dodgers that day but they’d rebound to make the playoffs and then take the World Series the next season.

That game ended this trip’s baseball stadium quest with three more stadiums added to the list; Yankee, Shea, and now Citizens Bank Park.
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Bobak Ha'Eri under CC-BY-SA license

After the game, we had a choice to make...Pat’s or Geno’s. We make our way north a ways to find the center of the cheese steak universe on the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. The two Philly Cheese steak legends duke it across the street from each other…Pat’s a kind of plain-Jane looking stand while Geno’s is a garish neon outpost that I don’t doubt can be seen from space.
Pat's and Geno's
Which one to choose? They both have their fans and detractors and both seem to be good so it came down to which one has the shortest line. At this time, that would be Geno’s so off we went.

Ordering at either of these places can be intimidating. Signs are posted on how exactly to order. Kind of in a Soup Nazi way, you make your way to the first window where you order your sandwich and you must be ready. Know what you want…steak sandwich; cheese type (provolone, wiz…cheese wiz, or American); wid (with onions) or widout. People who are indecisive are sent to the back of the line to start over. After the sandwich window you go to an adjacent window to get your drinks and fries.

At Geno’s, you are also faced with signs that proclaim that this is America, when ordering “speak English,” which has caused no shortage of controversy (and free publicity) in this town. Owner Joe Vento says his family had to learn the language when they came to America and encourages others to do the same. Despite the sign, he says he’s never refused anybody service due to their language but says that he can’t guarantee their order will be right if they don’t.

Once past the intimidating gauntlet of procuring your food, you take it to one of the outdoor tables and dig in. It is a delicious, juicy, cheesy, greasy pile of sliced rib eye on a bun. I have no dog in this fight, so if you are put off by Geno’s English bias, try Pat’s across the street where you just have to run the same drill in ordering. It’s a Philly thing and despite the intimidation factor, the people there are nice. Go for the unique experience and the delicious sandwich.
Across the street from our hotel is a station for the SEPTA commuter train. The next morning we leave the car behind and take the train into the city. At the Reading Station, we get breakfast at the adjacent Reading Market which is an expansive indoor market with produce sellers, butchers, meats, and more…kind of like an updated Italian Market. They have an Amish themed “Pennsylvania Dutch” section where we have some unbelievably good soft pretzels.

One more stop on the line puts us at Independence National Historical Park. Here is where you go to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

At the visitor’s center, we pick up our free tickets for a tour of Independence Hall. We have about an hour to wait (each ticket is good for a specific time), so we head across the street to Christ Church Burial Ground to find the grave of Benjamin Franklin. There are also four other signers of the Declaration of Independence buried here. We pay the $5 admission to get in, only to find that Franklin’s grave is right next to the fence…we didn’t need to go in to see it. It is covered with pennies from people who toss them on as a tribute to him…a penny saved is a penny earned.
Franklin's Grave
Wandering through the cemetery, I notice a fresh grave. I ask the caretaker if they still bury people here. Yes they do, although it is just for people who have already bought plots. They are selling no more but he said they’d make an exception if someone notable like a U.S. president wanted to be buried here.
It’s time, so we head over to Independence Hall for our tour. There is a security point manned by some very nice and patient people who go through every nook and cranny of your bags before passing you through the metal detector.
This is Where It Happened
Inside, we are lead by a ranger on a tour of the old courtroom which is across the hall from the meeting room where the Continental Congress met, drafted, and signed the Declaration of Independence. Of course, you can just feel the history oozing throughout even though most of the room is recreated. George Washington’s Sun chair at the top of the podium is the real deal though.

The tour continues upstairs and Letty goes on up while Tim and I wait below due to the inaccessibility. We are shown a photo album of what is upstairs while a ranger explains it to us.

When the tour is over, we wander around the shady grounds for a bit and explore the surrounding historic neighborhood. It is still hot and humid and I can imagine how our founding fathers must have felt without air conditioning in the beginning of summer.
Across the street, we go and see the Liberty Bell, which is in its own display building. Another security point must be negotiated before you see this but it requires no tickets or advance notice to see.

Our afternoon of history over, we wander over to the Delaware River, separating us from New Jersey, and find a Belgian pub with some great, refreshing brews to help cool us off before going back to our hotel.

And with that, we’re done with Philadelphia. Part 2 follows below and we travel to the land time forgot, Lancaster and Amish country.

-Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Monday, August 4, 2014

CLASSIC TRIP: Yosemite and the Gold Country, California - Part 2

DAY THREE - MARIPOSA

Having been to Yosemite yesterday and not wanting to wade into the crowds, we decided to see what the town of Mariposa had in store for us.

After another giant breakfast, we headed to the state Mining and Mineral Museum located 2 miles south of town at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds. Jon and Lois had provided us with a 2 for 1 admission coupon (also available at the visitor's center at the north end of town) so the price was right.

It's your basic museum but loaded with gems and precious metals. You follow exhibits that explain the history of gold mining in the region. This is the heart of Mother Lode country so a trip here must include some gold mining related activities.

There is a recreated mine shaft to wander down and many displays of the various minerals and gems that are mined in California. There is even a display that explains how you can file a mining claim yourself.

The crowning jewel of the museum is the largest gold nugget found in California. This 13 pound giant is very spectacular. About a foot long and 6 inches high. Just off the top of our head we figured just by weight is must be worth close to $100,000.

Next, we head to the north side of town and went to the Mariposa County History Museum, located right behind the Bank of America. This admission-free museum is full of the history of the region.

Outside is a large display of authentic gold mining equipment used in the region. The original office of the local newspaper is here along with a rebuilt gold ore stamping machine.

Inside are displays of local antiques along with stories of the region's schools, saloons, good guys and bad guys. Of particular interest are many of John Fremont's personal belongings. He, along with Kit Carson, explored much of the region and was instrumental in getting statehood for California.

After the museum we drove up the street to the cemetery to do some exploring. We tried, but by now the heat was just too much so we drove up highway 140 to the Merced River Recreation Area (12 miles north of town) to wade in the cool water.

There is a great little dirt road here that follows the course of the river south for several miles with plenty of great pools for a dip. Many outfitters also provide raft trips down the river here.

After this we head back to the inn for a long, refreshing dip in the pool. As beautiful as this region is, it really gets hot.

Jon and Lois invited us up for a barbecue that evening and we had some delicious barbecued chicken tacos with a French flavor. Jon, ever the Frenchman, pulled out some delicious wine to top it off.

After dinner, we head back over to the fairgrounds for the local 4th of July celebration. After much singing by a local group...too much singing judging by the reactions of those around us...the fireworks began. It was a great show and after fighting a great traffic jam to get out, we went back to the inn.

DAY FOUR - GIANT SEQUOIAS

Our last morning at the Restful Nest. Breakfast again was a huge affair with an egg casserole, a variety of breakfast meats, fruit, muffins, and the ever-present brioches. It was sad to leave but leave we must and we proceeded to head south down highway 41 through a Gold Country scenic drive.

For the first time on our trip we actually got hungry for lunch about the time we hit Fresno. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, this time we remembered about the new In-n-Out on the south end of town.

After a delicious double-double and a shake, we continued on to this day's destination.

Most people are under the assumption that giant sequoia trees can only be found in national parks such as Yosemite and Sequoia. Well, they're wrong!

There is a little known and out of the way area south of Sequoia National Park that has many groves of these giants. True, it is out of the way (the loop we made will take you about 4 hours out of the way) and most of the groves are hidden in the forest up old dirt logging roads. However, that being said there are some spectacular trees right along the main highway.

To get there, we headed south on Highway 99 to Highway 140 leading to Porterville. Then we headed east on 140 into the Sequoia National Forest. This is a really windy road that finally straightens out 44 miles up into the mountains at Quaking Aspen. Here, we continued on to mile marker 13 to the Trail of 100 Giants.

There is a picnic area and a campground across the street from the trailhead next to the beautiful Long Meadow. The trail itself is an easy 1/2 mile loop through a spectacular grove of giant trees. These trees are not fenced in and you can get right up to them and touch 'em. You can even walk through some of them. If you've never seen a sequoia up close, just check out this picture to see just how big they can get.

After the trail, we did a little bird watching in Long Meadow, just off of the parking area. The meadow was filled with wild flowers and Letty cataloged 4 different species of birds in the meadow.

Next, we continued down the highway through the Kern River canyon. Just before the Kern, we pulled over to view the large South River Falls. The hillsides really dried up when we hit the Kern River although the river itself was very full and roiling with whitewater.

There were a lot of rafting guides leading groups through the river. We pulled over to watch some of the boats come around a bend in the river to get some photos for this report. If you look carefully at the picture below, you can see the result of a particularly nasty bump in the river. At the front of the boat you can see a woman holding on for dear life after she was thrown overboard in the rapids.

This was a truly scary moment as the guide let the raft go on uncontrolled while the woman held onto the guide's paddle. Luckily the raft drifted into some calm water and the overboard passenger was pulled to safety. Below is another picture of the whitewater activity at this point.

We continued on down the canyon to the nice little town of Kernville where the river empties into Lake Isabella. We had hoped to stay in the area this evening but everything was booked. We decided to spend some time here anyway, wading in the cool, refreshing water of the river and then having dinner before leaving.

From the numerous restaurants and snack bars around the town's Circle Park, we picked That's Italian. We were very glad we did.

That's Italian would be right at home with the better Italian restaurants of San Francisco or L.A. Dinner started off with a great, fresh green salad topped off with their delicious home-made Italian dressing...very creamy! Letty had the Linguini with shrimp and I had their cannelloni stuffed with ham, chicken, spinach, and cheese. The linguini came with an alfredo-like white sauce and the cannelloni had a tomato cream sauce. Absolutely delicious!

The meal was accompanied by basketfuls of fresh bread and butter. The whole thing was topped off with some of the best desserts we've ever had. Letty had a piece of their chocolate cake and I had a napoleon that was very, very flaky with custard and cream. All this was eaten on their outdoor porch dining area with great views of the town and fresh breeze.

With that great dinner under our belt, we continued on down highway 138 which winds its way down the Kern River to Bakersfield. At this point it was 8:30pm and we were not really wanting to spend the night in Bakersfield so we just continued on the 2 hour drive back home.

-Darryl
Copyright 1997 – Darryl Musick